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Division of Labor

When the tasks of survival are divided between men and women only.

From small nomadic packs 

in the African wilderness . . .

. . . to megacities linked in

a global industrial civilization


..........Later, stones were shaped into hand axes, the next step after the chopper. Hand axes were the work of Homo erectus, who appeared on earth almost two million years ago just as habilis was dying out. Erectus lasted until a very recent 150,000 years ago—a span that makes erectus the longest-living species of Homo, likely a sign that the advances made with erectus in brain size and anatomical capabilities were destined to become part of modern Homo sapiens, though we modern sapiens have yet to reach even a tenth of the timespan that erectus spent on earth.

Hand axes were similar to choppers, but more finely crafted. They were teardrop-shaped and flattened, with two sharp edges coming to a sharp point. The hand axe and other similar tools lasted for the nearly two million years that we existed as Homo erectus, with change in our toolmaking taking place exceedingly slowly by modern standards of invention.


As habilis, we lived very successfully for almost a million years, as erectus, for almost 2 million years. These time spans are five times and ten times longer, respectively, than we modern Homo sapiens have lived—so far—since we became anatomically modern. In another comparison, these time spans are well over 140 times and 280 times longer, respectively, than civilization has existed, from the time the first cities were established in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, about 6,000 years ago, until today. As habilis and erectus, then, we had developed very successful lifestyles. Whether we will again be so lucky remains to be seen, perhaps not by us in our lifetimes.




Later, stones were shaped into hand axes, the next step after the chopper. Hand axes were the work of Homo erectus, who appeared on earth almost two million years ago just as habilis was dying out. Erectus lasted until a very recent 150,000 years ago—a span that made erectus the longest-living species of Homo. Hand axes were similar to choppers, but more finely crafted. They were teardrop-shaped and flattened, with two sharp edges coming to a sharp point. The hand axe and other similar tools lasted for the nearly two million years that we existed as Homo erectus, with change in our toolmaking taking place exceedingly slowly.

As habilis, we lived very successfully for almost a million years, as erectus, for almost 2 million years. These time spans are five times and ten times longer, respectively, than we modern Homo sapiens have lived—so far—since we became anatomically modern. In another comparison, these time spans are well over 140 times and 280 times longer, respectively, than civilization has existed, the period from the time that the first cities were established in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, about 6,000 years ago, until today. As habilis and erectus, then, we had developed very successful lifestyles. Whether we will again be so lucky remains to be seen, perhaps not by us in our lifetimes.


Ten percent of the individuals surveyed by Lee were over 60 years of age, "a proportion that compares favorably to the percentage of elderly in industrialized populations" (Lee, 1968:36). The blind, senile, or disabled continued to be supported by the ju/'hoansi. The system of reciprocal exchanges thus ensures the survival of these individuals. SOURCE?


Later hunter-gatherers are traditionally identified by their somewhat more advanced stone tools: bow and arrowhead, atlatls (what are these?), harpoons and projectile points.


Transitions in movement patterns  transitions in human history??? Movement patterns in transition  PUT IN SEX DOL CHAPTER AT END ?????

So far in this chapter we have described the transition from the time when we lived without a division of labor to the time when we first began as early stone toolmakers to have a partial division of labor—the beginning of sharing. From a partial division of labor, we then went on to a full-time hunting-and-gathering division of labor—and extensive sharing. Men hunted more or less exclusively, and women gathered and tended the children more or less exclusively. These divisions of labor contain the elements of movement we are concerned about in this work. Let’s focus for a moment on these movements.

Before a division of labor had developed, early bipedal pre-human hominids who were on this earth from about 7 million years ago until about 2.3 million years ago lived in small nomadic packs and moved from feeding site to feeding site over a large range of wilderness. All the pack members stayed continuously together with each other, often as lifelong companions though not always. Since each individual ate directly and immediately what he or she had plucked from a shrub or tree or dug out of the ground, the pack members moved more or less independently of each other, but always stayed near the rest of the pack. Interaction within the pack involved a variety of movement patterns. Each adult male or female usually established a pair bond with an opposite-sex mate and thus remained closer to their mate and to any children. Other non-mate patterns of movement within the pack would have involved contact in male-male, female-female, and male-female pairs—as well as various larger groupings regularly. Some relationships may have called for more contact and interaction, other relationships for less, still other relationships for none at all—not unlike any informal small group. Once they had eaten enough at a feeding site, a period of socializing may have occurred with everyone together, followed later by a night’s sleep. This day-and-night routine continued until the pack had exhausted the food in that location, perhaps as quality in a day or two, at which time they moved on, all of the pack in a line formation, to the next feeding site guided by the elders in front guided the pack, with the women and children safely in the middle of the line, followed by the younger men on guard at the rear.



A part-time division of labor in the earlier Homo habilis nomadic pack meant that the pack had grown slightly in size and moved slightly more slowly from one feeding site to the next, compared to a pack without a division of labor. [DESCRIBE THE PARTTIME DOL FIRST HERE, then go to “slowing down”] The shift from no division of labor to a part-time one occurred when the men, with new stone tools, spent more time hunting and less time gathering. It was a momentous change, of long-lasting significance down to the present day. It was, we might say, the beginning of modern civilization, as we hope to show in this Part III. The development of a division of labor—with physical objects from the environment being worked and shaped by one individual and then passed along to another individual to be further worked upon—is a fundamental characteristic of all divisions of labor. What began with the first hunters and gatherers becomes a continuous, ongoing change from this new part-time division of labor to full-time division of labor with ever more finely differentiated and specialized tasks, leading eventually to modern industrial society. ………..…..ADD HERE.


…….This slowing-down involved our pack spending a little more time at each feeding site before moving on to the next one. The slight increase in pack size and the small amount of slowing-down were the result of slightly more food being available to all of us as a result of part-time hunting by the men. When the pack arrived at a new feeding site, the men and women perhaps first gathered fruits and vegetables together as they had done for millions of years, each one of us eating what he or she had picked. While gathering, we stayed in close proximity to each other. Later, on some occasions but not always, we men left the women, who continued with their gathering, and set off to hunt, most likely individually at first but eventually in a group. We hunted at first only for a relatively short amount of time. Individually or together, we men returned to the feeding site, successful or not from our hunting. If we had failed, we might have rejoined the women in gathering. If we brought back meat, several movements were possible. If each man among us hunted alone and captured a small creature, each man shared it perhaps only with his mate and children. If we men hunted together and captured a larger creature, we likely divided it up at the kill site into portable parts, giving each part of the meat to a particular man based on the part’s deemed value and the man’s status among all of us men. Each man returned to the campsite and shared his portion of meat, perhaps only with his mate and children or perhaps with some or all of the pack members. Thus, movement and contact was either between the man and his mate and children or between some of the pack members or with everyone in the pack. The members of the pack generally stayed in close proximity to each other except when the men were hunting from time to time. After eating the meat, perhaps a period of socializing occurred followed by a night’s sleep. And then when the next day arrived, all the men and women of the pack returned to their respective gathering or hunting, and the day-night cycle continued and repeats. (CHANGE TO WE FROM THEM OR GO BACK TO THEM???)

The full-time hunting-and-gathering division of labor of a Homo erectus nomadic pack reflected the impact of a full-time division of labor between the men and the women, occasioned by the men spending a good deal more time hunting. The pack had grown very modestly in size, a result of the yet greater food supply from full-time hunting. Meat was both highly nutritional and dense with calories. In addition, the greater food supply would have allowed the larger pack to spend more time at each campsite, which became a more demarcated to which both the men and the women would return.


FOLLOWING IS REPETITION; MOVE IT TO REPLACE PREVIOUS DISCUSSION JUST ABOVE. When the time came to seek food, the women and men parted. The women gathered fruits and vegetables usually from a nearby location while the men traveled a longer distance away to find prey. After the kill, the men divided the carcass among themselves according to each one’s rank, and the hunters returned to the campsite. Each man with his portion of meat shared it with his mate and children, or he may have shared it with some members or with all of the whole pack, depending on the pack’s custom. Meanwhile, the women returned with their gatherings, perhaps carried on bark trays, a simple invention facilitated by stone cutting tools. At the campsite, each woman shared her gatherings with her mate and children or with a few other pack members or with the whole pack, as the pack’s custom dictated. Other tasks may have taken place at the campsite, such as cutting the meat from the hide and perhaps preparing it in a fire.

Sometime towards the middle of the 2 million years that Homo erectus existed, we had learned to tame fire and use it in cooking and keeping warm. Each typical day no doubt included a period of socializing by the whole pack around the campfire, followed by a night’s sleep. Except for the parting of the men and women to hunt and gather, the pack stayed in close proximity with each other as it always had. When the food had been depleted in the area of one campsite, the pack set off to a new campsite.

The key differences here between the full-time versus the part-time hunting-and-gathering movement patterns are the slightly larger pack size with full-time hunting, the longer stay at each feeding site, and the longer separation of the full-time hunting men from the full-time gathering women. There had to be countless other smaller movement patterns in both types of packs, such as the movement patterns deriving from the interactions among mated men and women and their children and the different movements among various subgroups and in the whole pack. We can only imagine in general what these patterns might have been.

A civilizing process begins 


However minimal it was, a civilizing process began with a hunting-and-gathering division of labor between men and women. When there was no division of labor and each individual picked fruits and vegetables for his or her own consumption, no obligations or expectations existed between any pack members with regard to food. They stuck together for the sheer pleasure of socializing and for sex. Most importantly, they stuck together for the benefit of experienced elders who, among other things, led the pack to plentiful new feeding spots. The group and a fire also protected the pack against predators. We had few predators, but they were not zero. Man-eaters include lionstigersleopards, and crocodilians, and to a lesser extent, bears, Komodo dragons and hyenas.

In contrast, when a division of labor arose, obligations between individuals of the pack developed around food. Each mated man who shared meat from the hunt and each mated woman who shared fruits and vegetables from her gatherings had to adjust their behavior to each other, an adjustment or coordination that had not previously existed. They had to leave to hunt or gather and then return in a dependable, timely manner to the campsite with their respective yields of food to be exchanged between them. Because they exchanged food, they had to plan ahead. Sometimes the men returned to the campsite empty-handed, having captured nothing. But return they did in order to get the nutrition of the fruits and vegetables the women had gathered. Previously, before a division of labor arose, they had to adjust their behavior only to their own immediate, personal needs.

This early division of labor meant they depended on each other, for they each needed or at least wanted the nutrition that the other one provided. The other person’s behavior mattered to their own livelihood and well-being. Previously, they only depended on themselves, and the behavior of others did not matter greatly to their own survival. And with a division of labor, they had to trust each other when the other was out of sight for long periods of time. Previously, they lived continuously near each other, and if they desired a particular behavior from their mate or others, they elicited it by direct personal appeal. Trusting someone who is out of sight was not an issue.


These new behaviors—adjusting and coordinating one’s behavior to others, planning one’s behavior in advance, depending on others for various needs, and trusting that others will do their part—are inherent personal behaviors required in any division of labor. They are the same behaviors we see in people who we consider to be civilized: self-control, following rules of conduct, restraint of emotions. These and other civilized behaviors, such as making appointments or having meals by a clock or eating food with a fork and knife instead of one’s fingers, are present-day “civilized” behaviors that correspond to some behaviors that began in the packs that adopted a hunting-and-divison of labor. A mated male and female returned to the campsite at a predictable time, measured perhaps by the sun’s position or by waning daylight. They may have delayed food consumption to the end of the day and trusted that their mate also delayed consumption. They depended on their mate’s success in hunting or gathering. These more civilized behaviors long ago became part of our behavioral repertoire, when the first tools were invented and hunting took on a noticeable role in the life of the pack. In time, these very capabilities would allow for the division of labor to expand and tie us together in larger and larger groups of people that we depended on and still depend on, many of whom we have never known in person or even seen them in person, as an ever-more-complex system of sharing developed. We call it civilization.

Our interpersonal relationships changed in another way. From the moment that new techniques of growing food allowed the self-sufficient pack to grow in size and to separate daily for increasingly longer parts of the day, the highly personal relationships among the individuals within the pack when they stayed continuously together began ever so imperceptibly to weaken. As the food supply increased, as the size of the group grew, as specialization required people to interact and exchange with more and more specialized individuals, the time a person spent with each particular other person had to decline, and with it the quality of the relationship. In time, relationships would weaken further as more and more people combined together in larger and larger groupings with increasingly specialized divisions of labor. In time, cities mushroomed, and relationships became immensely diluted, turning many of them into impersonal, automatic, substitutable relationships and greatly attenuating those that might still be considered personal. In time, we would become a “civilized” flock—or nearly so.

We often think of civilization as starting 4,000 or 5,000 years ago with the rise of small cities, the first writing systems, the first full-time leaders such as pharaohs and emperors, and the first extensive interregional trade. We have suggested in this work, however, that civilization is a more recent phenomenon—when it is viewed in the context of our prehistoric lives over millions of years. 


But civilization is indeed very ancient if we realize that it depends above all on tools and technology. It began with the beginning of tools. The first stone tools—flakes and choppers—and even tools of wood, bone, and antler from yet earlier in time, were, in fact, the first inkling of civilization, our first inventions, and the beginning of a civilizing process as far back in time as 2.3 million years ago and even longer. Civilization started, we are saying, with prehistoric creatures not even fully anatomically modern Homo sapiens. Like all later technology and invention, stone and other prehistoric toolmaking required forethought to take an object from the environment and shape it into something that was not itself consumable, but with which we could create a better or more plentiful, consumable product such as meat. These new skills were more than what we could do with our unaided, natural brains and bodies when we lived as pre-human hominids.

Flakes and choppers were only the beginning. The variety and complexity of stone tools grew faster and faster. Arrowheads of stone tied onto a wooden shaft came near the height of hunting-and-gathering technology. After stone tools came more inventions, more technology, at an increasingly faster pace: techniques of growing food, the crafts of pottery and weaving, metalworking, on and on. With stone tools, we had set in motion our innovative abilities. Slowly, but with increasing speed and growing brains, we began to look for ways to make life safer, more secure, and more materially comfortable. This pursuit of better ways to make our lives better is really no different than today’s rapidly innovative society. Some 2.3 million years ago or longer into our past, then, we had started ourselves on a very consequential path.  [[ test ]]






Experts in human prehistory—anthropologists and archaeologists—may well find our analysis here inadequate, as may historians of later historical periods that we will discuss. We are, however, not trying to offer a full history. Rather, we are looking, in particular, at historical transitions, at changes from one social or economic formation to another, at how one movement pattern slowly changes to a new movement pattern among the same individuals or among their offspring. We do not leave one nomadic pack for another one along this gradual transition. We stay with one theoretical or model or “ideal” nomadic pack and analyze how the movements among the same theoretical individuals and their immediate offspring would change in the course of gradual social and economic change into a distinctly new division of labor. Such a change would be the change from a pack with no division of labor involving environmental objects—fruits and vegetables—eaten  individually, to the change producing a slightly larger pack with the first division of labor, a sexual one, with men and women specialized in relation to each other and passing along their respective work objects to someone or several individuals of the opposite sex.

For certain, we do not know enough historical details to track this change among specific historical individuals, neither in prehistory nor even in the changes to a craft division of labor and then on to an industrial division of labor. We have no choice but to track this change “theoretically,” for lack of a better word, but to track it carefully so that each gradual change to a slightly new, and eventually to a wholly new, division of labor could occur in the slowly-changed movements of the same “theoretical” individuals and/or their offspring. The major historical transitions for our purposes in this work are (1) from no division of labor to a sexual division of labor, (2) from a sexual division of labor to a craft division of labor, and (3) from a craft division of labor to an industrial division of labor. Between each of these major changes, many smaller, gradual changes took place, and we hope that here and in later chapters, we not these gradual, intermediate changes. Looking at these transitions allows us to see the critical differences that had to occur between two social formations that occur one after the other in our human history. Moreover, we do not care about exact dates of what happened when. Rather, we are concerned with changes that occurred simultaneously or almost simultaneously, regardless of their dates in history.

As the reader may recall from Chapter 2 Movement in social life, the variables involved in centralization and decentralization co-vary simultaneously. In a similar way, then, the various characteristics of divisions of labor as they changed from no division of labor to a division of labor and from one division of labor to the next one also co-vary simultaneously. They are instances of changes in the degree of centralization of a society. Men could not, for example, take the time to go hunting without simultaneously reducing the time spent in their fruit-and-vegetable foraging, thus becoming dependent upon the women in a new way. So, also, women could not desire and eat the meat that men killed and brought back to the campsite without becoming similarly dependent on the men in a new way. The resulting interdependence could only have occurred when men and women separated for a portion of the day to do their unique activities with their respective and different skills. Men and women thus became tied together not by proximity and affiliation with each other as they had been when they had no division of labor, but also became tied together economically, by mutual dependence on each other to sustain a new variation of their work patterns, their division of labor, and their means of survival. All these changes occurred simultaneously or almost simultaneously. They happened only to a small degree when hunting first began—say, by killing a small animal with a rock  rather than scavenging for meat killed by other animals. Then later, to a greater and greater extent as better skills and more refined stone tools, hunting gradually took up more time of the males, whose gathering habits remained but steadily reduced over time.  And the women gradually compensated by doing gradually more gathering of fruits and vegetables, until finally, with step-by-step changes, hunting became the exclusive, full-time male occupation, and gathering became the exclusive, full-time female occupation.

Our health and diet in nomadic packs

The daily life of us prehistoric humans living in nomadic packs, both gathering-only and hunting-and-gathering packs, was very different from our lifestyles today. We were physically very active, frequently walking short and long distances as we moved to new feeding sites or hunted down animals. We likely crouched rather than sat at the campsite, eventually round a fire.(???)  Preparing our food, to the limited extent we did, required a fair amount of energy and strength. We had to wield a crude stone tool to cut the fur from an animal carcass or cut the whole carcass, including bones, into pieces. Cutting some types of fruits and vegetables involved energetic pulling or tearing to detach the item from the vine or bush. Root vegetables often required repeated energetic digging to get several of them out. We were not, in other words, sedentary nearly as much as we are in our modern lives.


We consumed a diet to which our bodies had become physically adapted over millions of years. Our diet varied from place to place, so there is not one uniform prehistoric diet. But we can assume that what we ate long ago, more generally, were fruits and vegetables that grew naturally on the stalks and branches of the vegetation growing wild in the wilderness we encountered.  And we ate few carbohydrates, which would enter our diet in force with the invention of agriculture. Later, meat from animals higher in the food chain was added to our diet in nomadic packs. Meat was a rich source of calories and micronutrients.

We note here that the diet of us early humans, both pre-hunting and gathering to full-time hunting and gathering, was extremely healthy: fruits, vegetables, and meat. No carbohydrates or only few, until agriculture and the growing of grains slowly became the mainstay of our diet. With agriculture, we lost height, we lost stature. Our teeth began to rot and fall out, or we pulled them out. And far more diseases attacked us on a agricultural diet;+ cancer, osteoporosis, _____________. These fairly-well-documented consequences suggest that reducing or eliminating carbohydrates from today’s diet might well reduce the incidence or severity of a significant number of today’s health conditions. The author’s personal experience with a ketogenic (low carbohydrates) diet reduced or eliminated several health problems all within six months after starting the diet: reducing or eliminating medication for: asthma, high blood pressure, depression, overweight, sleeplessness, and chronic kidney disease as measured by various blood and urine tests. 

Origins and evolution of the Western diet:

health implications for the 21st century


In all the changes that we say occurred simultaneously at this period in our prehistory—a new stone technology, hunting, sharing of food, more civilized capabilities, and other changes as in food preparation, language development, larger population, and at some point, warfare—in all of this, we are not arguing which came first or what caused what. For all practical purposes, our evolution in these changes was very, very slow, covering millions of years, and at each point along the way, everything formed a consistent system of survival. All the parts fitted together and evolved more or less simultaneously. In most cases if not in all of them, these changes must have evolved concurrently.  Better stone technology had to occur along with hunting, which inevitably meant new food preparation techniques and a slightly larger food supply, which meant a slightly increased population size for each nomadic pack, which may have induced warfare, and so forth. Yet it was irresistible to get more, better-tasting food with easier, labor-saving tools, even with something so seemingly little as being able to cook food over a fire or make a sharper stone tool. That irresistible urge, however, launched us humans on an irreversible path of ever more technology, yes, but also on a path of an ever-more-rushing pace of life and an ever-growing anonymity and isolation of individuals in the midst of urban crowds. The seeds of modern materialism and affluence-seeking had been planted as far back as the invention of the stone tool and even further back. So, too, had the seeds of decline in social relationships. It is noteworthy that all these changes evolved at an increasing pace, occurring faster and faster. Our ancestors were on the road to the next big shift in the human story: the agricultural revolution.

A note on language

In describing any division of labor, we will often refer to the items that individuals work on as work objects or products, even though in the context of prehistoric hunter-gatherers or village farmers, these terms will seem rather modern and out of place. So also with the word workers instead of hunter, gatherer, peasant, or farmer. These terms—work objects, products, workers—are important in allowing us to compare prehistoric, ancient, medieval, and modern divisions of labor with each other.

A division of labor involves workers moving into contact in order to pass along work objects from one or more workers to one or more other workers, performing certain tasks on those objects, and then moving again to pass the work objects on to other workers or back to the first workers. The end point is when the work objects are passed along to consumers or clients and finally consumed or otherwise used for their final purpose. Often the passing of a work object to another person is reciprocal. The recipient of a work object gives back to the giver another work object (barter) or money or a promise of a future benefit (military defense, a loan repayment, and many other possibilities).

Questions or comments:

Wild to Civilized

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